Cast & Crew
Andrzej, a successful sportswriter, and his wife, Christine, are driving to the lakes for a weekend on their yacht when they are suddenly forced to stop their car to avoid hitting a hitchhiking student. Admiring the young man's boldness, Andrzej gives him a lift and asks him to come along on the cruise. Throughout the weekend, Andrzej parades his possessions and baits the youth, who has never sailed before, mocking his clumsiness. It is apparent to Andrzej that the young man is attracted to Christine though he tries not to show it. Subsequently, a fight is started over the young man's pocket knife. The stranger is knocked overboard and vanishes. Christine and Andrzej become frightened for his safety when they remember that he cannot swim. Believing the boy drowned, Andrzej strikes out for shore to get help; and as soon as he has left the young man appears at the yacht cold and wet. Christine, angry but relieved, comforts him, and in a moment of abandon they make love. Christine drops the boy ashore and goes to find Andrzej, who has not yet reported the incident to the police. She informs him that the stranger is safe and well, but Andrzej believes she is merely trying to calm him. Then she tells him that she made love with the young man, and Andrzej must choose between his own guilt and his wife's unfaithfulness.
Best Foreign Language Film
Knife in the Water
Polanski had spent five years at the prestigious Polish Film School in Lodz, had acted in films, and had directed several well-received shorts. He had written the script for Knife in the Water with two film school colleagues, Jakub Goldberg and future director Jerzy Skolimowski, in a feverish three days and nights of continuous work. Polanski submitted the script to the Ministry of Culture for official approval and production funding, but was rejected several times before finally winning approval. Of the film's three stars, only Leon Niemczyk, who played the husband, was a professional actor. To play the wife, Polanski chose Jolanta Umecka, a music student who had never acted, but who was physically right for the role. Then the 29-year-old Polanski announced that he would play the part of the young hitchhiker himself. Colleagues tried to dissuade him, telling him that since it was his first feature, it would be difficult for him to both direct and star. According to the head of the State film unit Kamera, Jerzy Bossak, Polanski stripped naked and asked Bossak if he was not handsome enough to play the part. Bossak said he was not, and if he persisted, Bossak would delay the film. Polanski finally agreed to cast a drama student, Zygmunt Malanowicz. Although Malanowicz was physically right, he was an inexperienced actor, and in the end, Polanski ended up dubbing all of the character's dialogue himself. He also ended up having another actress dub Umecka's lines.
The production was one disaster after another. Rumors of orgies on location, profligate spending, and suggestions that the film did not uphold communist ideology filtered back to the editor of a Polish magazine, which sent a reporter to investigate. The ensuing article was scathing, and Bossak arrived on location and confronted Polanski. The two men argued, and it became clear to Bossak that the director was too individualistic to conform to the state's rigid rules. At the same time, Polanski's personal life was also falling apart. His wife, actress Barbara Lass, told him she wanted a divorce, plus he was injured in a car accident. In spite of all the problems, Polanski stayed focused, and Knife in the Water has all the qualities that would characterize his style: minimal dialogue, visual storytelling, artfully composed images, controlled pacing, and building tension.
Knife in the Water opened for a limited run in Warsaw, and was dismissed by most Polish critics. Finally, it was officially denounced by the leader of the Polish communist party, Wladyslaw Gomulka, as a film that "displayed the kind of thinking for which there is no place anywhere in the Communist world." Plans for a publicity campaign for the film were cancelled, and it was clear that Polanski's career in Poland was over. Polanski got in his car and headed west, ending up in Paris where he lived in poverty for several months. Then Knife in the Water was shown at the 1962 Venice Film Festival. It began getting attention around the world, and premiered in the U.S. at the first New York International Film Festival in 1963. The following spring, Knife in the Water was nominated for an Academy Award® as Best Foreign Film. Although Fellini's 8 1/2 (1963) won the Oscar®, Polanski's career was launched. He moved to London, where he made his next film, Repulsion (1965).
For nearly 40 years, Polanski did not make another film in Poland. Finally in 2001, he returned to Warsaw to shoot some scenes for The Pianist (2002), which earned him an Academy Award as Best Director.
Director: Roman Polanski
Producer: Stanislaw Zylewicz
Screenplay: Roman Polanski, Jerzy Skolimowski, Jakub Goldberg
Cinematography: Jerzy Lipman
Editor: Halina Prugar
Art Direction: Boleslaw Kamykowsky
Music: Krzysztof Komeda
Cast: Leon Niemczyk (Andrzej), Jolanta Umecka (Krystyna), Zygmunt Malanowicz (The Young Man).
by Margarita Landazuri
Knife in the Water
Knife in the Water
Polanski fell in love with Poland's ethereal lake region while he was an up-and-coming film student. He wanted to make a movie that would take full advantage of the area's beauty, and he hoped to shoot it for very little money. With that in mind, he and classmate Jerzy Skolimowski (who would go on to write and direct the devastating 1982 political allegory, Moonlighting), wrote a screenplay that features only three characters and takes place almost exclusively on a private sailboat. So much for the budget. Unfortunately, Polanski had other things to worry about on Knife in the Water, like getting a usable performance out of his neophyte leading lady.
Leon Niemczyk and Jolant Umecka play Andrej and Krystna, an apparently bickering couple who, at the beginning of the film, are silently taking turns driving their car to the lake where their sailboat awaits. During the drive, they pick up a young, athletic hitchhiker (played by Zygmunt Malanowicz, but voiced by Polanski himself) who starts subtly jostling with the much older Andrej for dominance in Krystna's eyes. Though he can certainly do without an extra hand on his sailing expedition, Andrej is nevertheless intrigued by the young man and asks him to join them on the boat.
This move makes little if any sense in real-life terms, but it enables Polanski to create an enclosed, ever-fluctuating triangle between his three characters. Relentless, often tedious mind games ensue, mostly between the two increasingly foolish men. There's a decent payoff, I suppose, but you might lose interest in everything except Krystof Komeda's Coltrane-ish jazz score before Polanski gets there. Nevertheless, Knife in the Water was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Film (which it lost to a little trifle called 8 1/2) and placed Polanski squarely on the international filmmaking map.
Among the many extras offered on Criterion's 2-disc set is an appealing 27-minute interview with Polanski and Skolimowski, who are taped at different locations. Polanski is surprisingly animated as he relates the futility of trying to get Umecka, who was cast solely for her raw sex appeal, to convey emotions. There's a hilarious story involving the directorial input of a loud flare gun, and another one in which the actress starts eating snacks on the set and gains enough weight to threaten the shot continuity. Polanski and Skolimowski also describe the trial of getting their then-daring film approved by the Polish government. One wishes these interviews were an hour long, but they're still informative and very amusing.
Disc one also contains an exhausting number of little-seen publicity and production stills, but Disc two is the treasure trove for hardcore Polanski buffs. This is where you'll find no less than 8 of Polanski's student films, shot between 1957 and 1962, including Two Men and a Wardrobe, a slice of comic surrealism that won a few awards back in the day. Once again, these raw snippets and completed concepts strongly hint at the Polanski we've come to know, and they make for fascinating viewing.
As always, Criterion does what it can with the source material. Knife in the Water itself looks as good as you can imagine it looking, with sharp blacks, grays, and whites jumping off the screen at you, and the soundtrack is serviceable, given its age and no-budget origins. The student films, of course, vary in print quality, but you still get to see them without having to sign up for some arcane film society. Once again, Criterion delivers the goods, to a degree that practically seems a public service. They're in the business of entertaining us with materials that qualify as historical documents, and nobody does it better.
For more information about Knife in the Water, visit Criterion Collection. To order Knife in the Water, go to TCM Shopping.
by Paul Tatara
Knife in the Water
Released in Poland in 1962 as Nóz w wodzie.
Winner of the International Critics Prize at the 1962 Venice Film Festival.
Released in United States 1963
Released in United States 1996
Released in United States August 1962
Released in United States September 11, 1963
Released in United States September 1989
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1963
Shown at Montreal World Film Festival August-September 1963.
Shown at New York Film Festival September 11, 1963.
Shown at Toronto Festival of Festivals (Polish Restrospective) September 8 & 9, 1989.
Shown at Venice Film Festival August 1962.
Feature film debut for director Roman Polanski; "Knife In the Water" is Polanski's only feature film made in Poland.
Released in United States 1963 (Shown at Montreal World Film Festival August-September 1963.)
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1963
Released in United States September 11, 1963 (Shown at New York Film Festival September 11, 1963.)
Released in United States September 1989 (Shown at Toronto Festival of Festivals (Polish Restrospective) September 8 & 9, 1989.)
Released in United States 1996 (Shown in New York City (MoMA) as part of program "Life Begins at 40: The Janus Films Collection at the Museum of Modern Art" September 10 - October 2, 1996.)
Released in United States 1996 (Shown in New York City (Walter Reade Theater) as part of program "Revelation & Camouflage: Polish Cinema from 1930 to the Present" January 26 - March 7, 1996.)
Released in United States August 1962 (Shown at Venice Film Festival August 1962.)